FERNANDO ZÓBEL (1924-1984)
FERNANDO ZÓBEL (1924-1984)


FERNANDO ZÓBEL (1924-1984)
signed ‘Zobel’ (lower right); signed again, titled and dated ‘Zobel 446 MIRAFLORES Oct/61’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 x 71 cm. (20 1/8 x 28 in.)
Painted in 1961
Private Collection, Spain
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Christie’s is proud to present Miraflores this season, a magnificent work by master abstractionist Fernando Zobel. A visual echo to its Spanish roots, the space of the canvas is filled with sparks of blackand white lines intertwining; bursting with energy, it blossomedinto this iconic pictorial landscape. The present lot is part of Zobel’s highly acclaimed series, also known as Serie Negra (Black Series),a celebration of the artist’s shift from his experimental Saeta series(1957-1959) into his more matured abstract period. Spontaneous and dynamic, Serie Negra was defined by Zobel’s focus onmonochrome, where gradients of black and white played vital roles in the composition. It is also a reflection of the artist’s journey ashe takes inspirations from natural landscape, the movement of the seasons, as well as flora and fauna. Zobel’s innovative and timeless breath of works earned him international recognition over time.Even till the present day, Zobel’s artistry remained highly celebrated– with a retrospective titled Contrapuntos featured in the 2017 Venice Biennale, further cementing his position as a pioneering abstractionist artist of his time.

Zobel’s unique upbringing and education background played a significant part in his artistic development. Born in 1924 in Manila, Philippines, he began as a medical student before leaving to pursue history and literature at Harvard University. Surrounded and influenced by artists from the Boston School, it was then when he started painting despite not having any formal training beforehand. Given Zobel’s affinity and intellectual curiosity for art, he gradually developed an appetite for a variety of interests that made regular appearances within his oeuvre. One of which was his fascination and appreciation for Oriental art. To further cultivate his passion, Zobel not only participated in a series of Chinese archaeological excavations on the Calatagan Peninsula in the Philippines; he also took up lessons in Oriental calligraphy in hopes of mastering the approach of Chinese calligraphy and Japanese sumi drawings. Inspired by the disciplined and balanced structure of calligraphy art form, he studied and adopted its aesthetics, transforming it to form the base structure of his own visual vernacular. Zobel would fill a hypodermic syringe with oil paint to execute his long calligraphic lines, it was an innovative tool that allowed him to gain a level of graphic detail and precision. By integrating simplistic yet powerful calligraphic lines in a negative space, it created a sense of direction and movement. Along with the artist’s juxtaposition of black and white being equally prominent in the composition, the fluidity of the brushstrokes evokes a conversation between the sinuous bare lines depicted in this painterly work.

Abstract art can be defined as one of the purest and direct forms of expression. It was through abstraction that Zobel found solace in sharing his emotions and memories, especially those during his time abroad. During this time he witnessed the bourgeoning of various art movements across Europe and the USA in particular. Being able to explore the exciting presence of American abstract art, he was captivated by works from Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, where both artists championed the concept of chaos and control coexisting in perfect harmony, while being impulsive and expressive on canvas. Notably, Zobel’s visit to a Rothko exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design left a profound impact on him. Moved by Rothko’s application of atmospheric colours, it gave him confidence and encouragement to further pursue the potential of abstract art. In the present lot, Zobel’s composition can also be comparable to the concept of Fibonacci theory. By positioning the ‘Rule of Thirds’ in Miraflores, the focal point of the painting is shifted to the side as opposed to being at the centre, this creates a flow within the painting, hence allowing it to flourish into an organic and natural configuration that has proven to be more aesthetically pleasing to the viewer’s eye.
“I gradually came to the conclusion that my use of colour was becoming meaningless. Its function appeared to be merely decorative. Any two colours, as long as they produced a certain vibration, seemed to work. I believed that in art things are either necessary or superfluous. At that point, I started using less and less colour till finally I ended up using only black lines against a white background.” – Fernando Zobel

Miraflores is a demonstration of Zobel’s elegant and harmonious orchestration of lines and pattern, as well as a powerful expression of conveying memories and emotions that served as his key inspirations. Deeply respected for his contribution in the Asian art scene, Fernando Zobel’s legacy still stands in the Philippines and in Cuenca, Spain, where the artist settled in his later years.

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